I am very glad that I can contribute to this debate, as it falls in the period when I am briefly back in the saddle before going off on a further period of leave in October. Colleagues will not be surprised that I, having introduced shared parental leave as a Minister, and Duncan have chosen to share caring for our new baby.
I want to put on the record my sincere thanks to you, Mr Speaker, and in particular to Alison Thewliss and Ms Harman, for enabling me to speak early in the debate. The slight changes to its timing, with the urgent question and the statement, have made the feeding and expressing schedule slightly difficult. Gabriel will be arriving in the House in half an hour or so, so I really appreciate colleagues’ help in enabling me to make my speech at this point.
I do wish that I could say I welcomed this debate, which for some of us it is too little, too late. This House first resolved that Members with small babies should be able to vote by proxy seven months ago. Since then, Gabriel, Elijah and Solomon have been born, whom, instead of calling “honourable”, we might call the “adorable” babies for East Dunbartonshire, for Lancaster and Fleetwood and for North West Durham. Two more Commons babies are on the way, and I am sure colleagues will join me in sending good wishes to Holly Lynch, whose baby is due next week, and Tulip Siddiq, who says she wishes she could be here. Unfortunately, she is experiencing heavy morning sickness, but she has been a strong campaigner for proxy voting. I very much welcome the contribution from Mr Walker and members of his Committee, who, to their credit, have produced an excellent report. They carried out the inquiry swiftly, and it is almost four months ago that they published their report recommending motions to be put to the House to make proxy voting on baby leave a reality, yet here we are having another general debate.
I can absolutely see the merit of looking at proxy voting more widely than in cases of baby leave, not least after the atrocious treatment of Naz Shah back in June. She travelled hundreds of miles in an ambulance from hospital, and was wheeled through the Lobby with a sick bucket on her lap. This does need to be looked at, but that is no reason to delay cracking on with the vote on introducing proxy voting for baby leave along the lines suggested in the report. It is better to take a step forward now than wait for perfection that may never arise.
I want to share the message one of my new fellow parly mums has sent me. She said:
“I am sick of being asked to vote on this and that by constituents and having to reply about pairing. People either don’t know what it is or they do because of how you were done over by the Tories—not a great advert!”
I have to say she puts it very compellingly. A cynic might conclude that, because all five pregnant or new mum MPs sit on the Opposition Benches, the Government are trying to kick this issue into the long grass. After what happened to me in July, I think I might be forgiven for being cynical about the Government’s motivations. I am sure the House can imagine my fury when I found out that Brandon Lewis had voted in those two knife-edge Brexit Divisions, despite being paired with me, as I nursed my two-week-old baby.